A Rhubarb Cocktail

Poached rhubarb, hibiscus tea and vodka make a special warm-weather drink.

Though its luscious stalks say springtime, rhubarb thrives in cool climates. "Rhubarb is a cool season perennial plant that is winter hardy and resistant to drought," says Michigan native Ashley Rodgers, farm manager at Serenbe Farms in Chattahoochee, Hills, Georgia. "It needs cold to trigger spring growth, so rhubarb roots should be planted in early spring." 

Planting, mulching generously, watering and weeding are easy, but as singer-songwriter Tom Petty says, "the waiting is the hardest part." According to Rodgers, it's best not to harvest rhubarb during the first growing season so the plants can become established. In subsequent seasons, stalks can be harvested when they're 12-18 inches tall. 

"The first step to harvesting rhubarb is to cut the stalks at soil line or pull them out individually," she says. "You can either harvest all the stalks at once or pull them selectively over a 4-6 week period. Always leave two stalks per plant to ensure it will continue producing."

When you finally get your hands around some stalks, try the Spring Forward Cocktail made with rhubarb poaching liquid from Atlanta-based chef/restaurateur Anne Quatrano's cookbook, Summerland. "Fresh rhubarb is tart and delicious," Quatrano writes. "I prefer to poach it very lightly and serve it with both savory and sweet dishes in the spring. This quick poaching method retains the texture of the stalks while removing some of the bitterness." 

Made with hibiscus tea and rhubarb poaching liquid, the Spring Forward Cocktail has a deep red color. 

Photo by: Image by Brian Woodcock

Image by Brian Woodcock

Made with hibiscus tea and rhubarb poaching liquid, the Spring Forward Cocktail has a deep red color. 

Spring Forward Cocktail

Serves 1

  • 1 hibiscus tea bag
  • Rhubarb poaching liquid*
  • Vodka
  • Lemon bitters
  • Rhubarb stalks for garnish

To make the tea, place 1 hibiscus tea bag in a heatproof pitcher or cup, add 2 cups boiling water and let steep for 6-8 minutes. Remove the tea bag and let the tea cool slightly. Place in the refrigerator to cool completely, about 1 hour. (You can make the tea a day in advance). 

For each cocktail, in a pink cocktail mixing glass filled with ice, combine 1 ounce tea, 1 ounce rhubarb poaching liquid, 1 ½ ounces vodka, 2 drops bitters and stir well. Fill a tall, 10-ounce glass with fresh ice and strain in the cocktail. Garnish with a rhubarb stalk.

Poached Rhubarb

Serves 12

  • 4-6 large rhubarb stalks
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2-3 oranges)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup white port
  • Juice of 1 lemon

To peel the rhubarb, grab the strings between your thumb and a sharp paring knife and pull down to the end of each stalk; repeat all the way around. Reserve the strings. Slice the peeled stalks lengthwise into ½-inch-wide strips and then cut the strips into 2-inch-long pieces. 

In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb strings, orange juice, sugar, port, lemon juice and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil over medium to high heat and let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove the strings from the liquid and discard. Add the sliced rhubarb to the saucepan, reduce the heat to low and cook for 1 minute. Transfer the rhubarb with a slotted spoon to a bowl; refrigerate until cool. 

Over medium heat, continue to cook the poaching liquid until it is reduced in volume by one quarter. This should take about 10 minutes. Strain the poaching liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and let cool. Add the rhubarb back to the liquid and store in the refrigerator, covered or in an airtight container, for up to 1 week.

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